The largest state to join the U.S. and its last frontier to boot; is it any wonder we have a special day — National Alaska Day, held on October 18 each year — to celebrate this amazing place?
History of National Alaska Day
While the origins and founder of National Alaska Day remain elusive at the moment, we know plenty about how Alaska came to be a part of the U.S.
Long before the Russians settled in this Arctic land, it was populated by indigenous people from tribes like Inuit, Yupik, Tlingit, and others. They hunted and lived on whale fat, beaver, and fish. Then, the Russians came and settled in Alaska, leaving only after 68 years of ruling.
The history of U.S. rule in Alaska began with the setting up of a transcontinental telegraph line in Sitka, Alaska. The U.S. wanted to expand their territory, and the Russians wanted to leave — the decimated sea otter population meant this land was no longer profitable, and Russia was short on money after the Crimean War, making Alaska hard to defend. William Seward, the state’s secretary at that time, was the main hand behind the purchase. Alaska was purchased at $7.2 million. His championing of this cause was so prominent, the vast majority of Americans who thought this purchase was a mistake took to calling Alaska “Seward’s Folly.”
Then, in the 18th century, two prospectors found gold at the Klondike region, and thus began the gold rush era in Alaska. Numbers indicate upwards of 10,000 fortune seekers that were headed for goldfields at Klondike, and the beaches at Nome in western Alaska, another place where gold was found. The newfound popularity of this region was cemented by its strategic position during the Second World War. When the Japanese invaded the Aleutian Islands, parts of which are U.S. territory and parts belonging to the Russian federal subject of Kamchatka Krai, the American army had already been stationed there, ready to protect their border. After the Civil War, this Aleutian campaign — called the ‘One Thousand Mile War’ — was the first such battle fought on American soil. Alaska remained a territory until the 19th century when it became a U.S. state.
The 19th century also brought dog sledding to the forefront of American consciousness. A deadly outbreak of diphtheria in Nome threatened the lives of every single person living there. Additionally, the place was so isolated, that assisting them was very hard. This situation was worsened by an approaching blizzard, which ruled out air assistance. The only way to deliver an antitoxin was via sled dogs. Enter Leonhard Seppala. His fellow Norwegian Jafet Lindeberg — who struck rich in Nome — asked Leonhard Seppala to come work with him in his Pioneer Mining Company. Records indicate Seppala regretted this decision on account of the work being difficult. That is, until the day he became a sled dog driver, mushing supplies. A team of 20 was assembled, including that of Leonhard Seppala, who was a venerated musher by then. While the lead dog, Balto, became famous, many argue it was actually Seppala and his lead dog, Togo, who were the true saviors that day.
National Alaska Day timeline
A debate erupts in the U.S. about the purchase of Alaska from Russia.
The Russian flag at the governor’s house is lowered and replaced with a U.S. flag.
Alaska changes hands from Russia to the United States.
Prospectors Joe Juneau and Richard Harris discover gold in the Klondike region, starting the gold rush in Alaska.
Prospectors find gold on the beaches at an Alaskan city called Nome.
232 ships carrying around 18,000 prospectors arrive in Nome.
Japan invades the Aleutian Islands and more than 140,000 American military troops are already stationed in Alaska.
Alaska is number 49 to join the U.S. as a state.
National Alaska Day FAQs
What is Seward's Day in Alaska?
Falling on the last day of March, this day commemorates the purchase of Alaska by the U.S., negotiated by then-Secretary of State William H. Seward.
Can you see Russia from Alaska?
On a clear day, by climbing a hill on Cape Prince of Wales, you might see mainland Siberia, which is 50 miles away.
Can Alaska be sold?
The United States does appear to have the right to sell Alaska or give it away without consulting its debt holders.
How To Celebrate National Alaska Day
If you have the time (and the budget) plan a holiday to see the wonders of this Arctic state. Visit the immense Denali National Park and Preserve, which is home to glaciers, fossil records, and a study in geology. Take a trip to see Glacier Bay, which gives you a glimpse at a color of blue you cannot find anywhere else on Earth. If you are a fan of nature, you are in luck. The Alaskan wildlife is as diverse as it is abundant — you can see humpback whales in the bay, lumbering brown bears in the woods, or bald eagles soaring overhead. Explore travel websites for advice on when to visit and get started planning your trip!
Learn more about Alaska
Not bitten by the travel bug yet? Not a problem. Take a virtual tour of this place. Read up on the history of Alaska, its people, and the reasons that make it a special place unlike any other.
Watch a feature
Settle in for a fun Alaska-themed movie night with the family. Check out movies set in this region, like the rom-com “The Proposal,” the adventure drama “Into The Wild,” or the Disney feature, “Togo.” Want something longer-lasting? The “Gold Rush” reality TV series that aired on Discovery Channel is all about, you guessed it, the gold rush in Alaska. Whatever your fancy, there are many movies or TV shows across genres that are set in this place. So grab some popcorn and enjoy watching Alaska’s beautiful landscape on your screen.
5 Fun Facts About Alaska
Alaska means 'great land'
The name 'Alaska' comes from the Aleut word ‘Alyeska,’ which means 'great land'.
Alaska has the highest mountain peaks
Alaska is home to some of the highest mountain peaks in the U.S., like Mount Denali.
The Alaskan flag was designed by a child
13-year-old Native American Benny Benson designed the flag of Alaska in 1926.
Lowest population density
Alaska has only one person per square mile, making it the state with the lowest population density in the world.
A sled dog race in Seppala’s honor
The Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race is held every year from Anchorage to Nome, to honor Leonhard Seppala's mission to save an entire community.
Why We Love National Alaska Day
We get to celebrate Alaskan history
The Gold Rush. The Iditarod. 'Seward’s Folly.' There are so many parts to Alaska's history that we are uncovering. On National Alaska Day, we get a chance to learn about and share in this history and celebrate the fact that this amazing land is a part of the U.S.
Because we love Alaska
The land where the sun shines for 24 hours. The land with the Aurora Borealis. Forests, lakes, glaciers, national parks, hiking trails, islands — Alaska has a little something for everyone. This perfect untouched slice of land is a holiday lover's paradise.
We celebrate America’s history
Just imagine, if Seward had not purchased Alaska from the Russians, Americans could not claim this beautiful land as their 49th state. It’s part of their pride and joy and an attraction to travelers everywhere. Alaskan history is intertwined with American history, and National Alaska Day reminds us of this fact.
National Alaska Day dates